Social media is a breeding ground for people looking to take advantage of others’ trust — and their desperation. Earlier this year, a severe baby food shortage led to many families clamoring for the product. Scammers profited off this by advertising fake supplies of baby food on social media platforms, and when a needy parent paid them via an untraceable money-sharing service, the scammer would disappear.
Unfortunately, similar scenarios can be expected to occur with whatever’s in demand this holiday season. Whether it’s a rare PlayStation 5 or a frequently out-of-stock children’s toy, online criminals are ready to advertise their nonexistent wares with fake photos and bogus websites to those who are frantically searching for hot-ticket items.
Of course, there’s a lot more to staying safe online than just being aware of scams. Here are seven tips you can use this holiday season to ensure it’s a jolly one.
Not all review sites are genuine. Use only well-known companies such as TrustPilot, Google, Yelp or the Better Business Bureau if you’re not sure about a retailer. Even if the seller seems legitimate on one or more of these, be wary of suspicious reviews. Anyone can post fake positive reviews, so stay aware of any that don’t pass the gut test. If positive reviews for unknown retailers merely seem suspicious, maybe because of consistently poor spelling and grammar or because they appear too similar to be from different people, you’re probably right to be distrustful.
2. Check the retailer’s address
Be cautious if a retailer doesn’t have any reference to the address of a brick-and-mortar building. Even if they do, make sure it’s what they say it is with Google Maps. If it comes up as a residence or anything besides what the retailer claims is there, don’t purchase from them.
3. Pay with a credit card
Don’t trust retailers that don’t let you pay by credit card. Never commit to any money transfers or other means of payment without protection. Once you send someone money without any way of getting it back, it’s likely gone forever.
4. Look at the company’s email address
You should only communicate with verified company email addresses. If you’re talking to someone whose business ends in @gmail.com, @yahoo.com or any other free email service, it could be a scam.
5. Don’t buy gift cards from anyone except the source or a trusted retailer
This goes especially for gift cards being sold by personal sellers, including on eBay. There’s no guarantee the card hasn’t already been used or its balance intentionally misrepresented. Unless you know for sure you’re protected, stick to retailers you know.
6. Don’t shop online in public, even if you’re using a VPN
You might already know that a VPN protects your online privacy when using public Wi-Fi networks. However, it only protects your online privacy. All the internet security in the world can’t protect you from someone watching you enter your credit card information from over your shoulder. If you must enter your payment information in a public place, make sure your back is to a wall and you’re not near any windows so it’s impossible for anyone to snoop.
7. Consider a paid security suite for your online devices
Antivirus programs are necessary for many types of online devices, and most have free versions. But while they can protect you from malware, they probably won’t be of much use in protecting you from scams, phishing attacks or other types of threats. There are security suites available that — in addition to protecting you from malware — can detect when something you’re looking at might not be legitimate and notify you before you engage further.